As a self-confessed reality show and food fanatic, I am sure it would not surprise you to know I am an avid Top Chef watcher.
In brief, it is a competitive reality show on Bravo in which 15 contestants -- ranging from professional to self-taught chefs -- compete in a series of tasks.
This week's main challenge consisted of giving classic comfort foods a modern and healthy spin. Some of the dishes included meatloaf, fried chicken, and pork chops with applesauce.
To my dismay, the only criteria contestants were given as to how to make their dishes healthier was simply to lower the amount of cholesterol in them.
I literally groaned when I heard this guideline and then contestants explaining, "I'm using turkey sausage instead of pork sausage to lower the cholesterol in my dish."
One contestant took a risk and made a dish with lobster -- a food moderately high in cholesterol that also offers healthy fats and other nutrients -- making the case that people shouldn't be so afraid of cholesterol.
"Right on!" I thought.
The judges, however, reprimanded him.
Were they regular Small Bites readers, they would know that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol as much as saturated and trans fats.
Additionally, lobster contains omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a wide array of health benefits, including lowering the risk of developing atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries)!
Here's another perfect example. Three ounces of shrimp contain 166 milligrams of cholesterol (more than half the recommended daily maximum) but only 0.2 grams of saturated fat.
People going on a low-cholesterol diet would shun them and instead opt for a lower-cholesterol protein food like lean top sirloin. Hey, you can get twice as much (six ounces) and only get 95 grams of cholesterol. But here's the catch -- you are also getting four whole grams of saturated fat!
So, the lower-cholesterol option is actually the one that will worsen your blood cholesterol!
If you are truly concerned about your blood cholesterol levels, forget cholesterol in food and instead pay close attention to your saturated and trans fat intake.
Quick refresher: saturated fats are found in animal by-products (except those that are fat-free), while man-made trans fats are mainly in baked goods and shelf-stable processed foods.
Additionally, be sure to consume foods high in soluble fiber (oat products, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds).
Which bring me to another faux pas. One contestant made a flatbread with whole flaxseeds, for which he was commended. "Flaxseeds lower cholesterol," the dietitian-free panel explained.
I, however, was not satisfied with that erroneous statement. Remember, in order to enjoy all the benefits of flaxseeds, we need to consume them in their ground (or "meal") form. Whole flaxseeds pass through our digestive systems completely undetected!
I'll definitely leave opinions on whether a vanilla bean or pomegranate reduction goes better with a rhubarb tart up to the Top Chef experts, as long as they promise to bring on a nutrition consultant for their next season.